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"Reflections on Little Rock" 
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Post "Reflections on Little Rock"
Arendt raises some compelling considerations on the U.S.'s civil rights history. Dividing the country into the largely accepted trinity of political, social and private realms, she addresses the desegregation of public schools. She notes that the Supreme Court was only able to address desegregation because of state laws that mandated segregation. It is only in this legal realm where the federal government could legitimately reach. Yet in addressing state laws of segregation, the federal government invaded the social realm, enforcing desegregation largely against social custom and opinion. For Arendt then, the legal disestablishment of segregation was warranted and, more so, essential to ensure the life of the republic, while the legally-enforced disestablishment of social segregation was unfounded. "For the crucial point to remember is that it is not the social custom of segregation that is unconstitutional, but its legal enforcement" (202) [emphasis original].

Arendt illustrates her argument with regard to desegregation and the political/social realm by addressing anti-miscegenation laws, which were not overruled by the Civil Rights bill at that time. She argues that the "right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right" and paramount to segregation laws regarding buses, hotels, amusement and schools, or even political discrimination like the right to vote. In not striking down state anti-miscegenation laws, the Supreme Court never addressed what Arendt felt was a more profound violation of the "inalienable human rights to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'" It's a solid argument, which makes her conclusion all the more compelling. She pointedly adds that "had the Court ruled the antimiscegenation laws unconstitutional, it would hardly have felt compelled to encourage, let alone enforce, mixed marriages" (203). At first blush I accepted this outright, and it was eye-opening. And, though it still gives pause, I think it's important to note that enforcing miscegenation would be an encroachment of the government on the private realm, while enforcing desegregation is an encroachment on the social realm. And while that doesn't invalidate the example, it does complicate it.

The bulk of Arendt's essay focuses in various ways on the distinction between social discrimination and the legal enforcement of such discrimination. Arendt names equality as the "innermost principle" to the political realm, and goes on to name discrimination as the innermost principle to the social realm. She argues that "people belong to certain groups whose very identifiability demands that they discriminate against other groups in the same domain," and urges that "without discrimination of some sort, society would simply cease to exist and very important possibilities of free association and group formation would disappear" (205). Her argument evolves to address the threat that conformism, as a result of the total elimination of discrimination, would have on a republic with such an "extraordinary heterogeneity of its population." Thus, she argues, "the moment social discrimination is legally abolished, the freedom of society is violated" (209). This argument, again, is very persuasive. And while Arendt's theoretical discussion holds up for me, I'm having some problems with her examples.

For instance, in dividing the social and political realm, Arendt gives two specific examples. She mentions "restricted" country resorts that discriminated based on race and ethnicity, arguing that such practices are "only an extension of the right to free association." She adds that this would not apply to theaters and museums "where people obviously do not congregate for the purpose of associating with each other." She also declares the use of buses, railroad cars, and hotels and restaurants in business districts "another matter." So she is drawing a distinction between services for entertainment or amusement



Tue Dec 11, 2007 2:25 pm
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I haven't completed this chapter yet, but here are some thoughts along the way:

I wonder if Arendt ever made contact with the mother of the girl in the picture: what were the reasons that she allowed her daughter to endure such a terrific hardship? Arendt says she would never have done it with her daughter...forcing her children to solve the ugly problems of their parents. I suppose lots of African American parents were forced to make terrible decisions regarding the fate and safety of their children raised in the South. Sending the daughter to school, where she was not wanted, even loathed and hated, was a strange act of resistance: why didn't she accompany her daughter, along with her husband?

Arendt comments on the mob mentality at the scene: the very worst that young people can display, with hate, venom and threats of violence...and no one, or very few, were willing to confront this youthful mob- again, another example of parents abandoning their responsibility, allowing their children to run riot over the public commons. One set of parents abandon the protection of their child, another abandon their control of their child: both, its seems, miss the damage being done to all involved.



Thu Dec 13, 2007 12:35 pm
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Post Re: "Reflections on Little Rock"
irishrose wrote:
She notes that the Supreme Court was only able to address desegregation because of state laws that mandated segregation. It is only in this legal realm where the federal government could legitimately reach. Yet in addressing state laws of segregation, the federal government invaded the social realm, enforcing desegregation largely against social custom and opinion.


I think she also points (from her perspective) forward, with the suggestion that as much harm as good will be done by that enforcement in the social realm. And since we stand at a point roughly forty years removed, it might be worth asking ourselves whether or not she's right.

I think there's something to be said for the notion that forcibly mandating desegregation -- rather than just removing the legal obstacles to a voluntary desegregation -- has stymied progress that we might have made otherwise. That isn't to say that, without those mandates, we'd be any better off now. But it's at least plausible that the still abysmally low standard of education among, say, inner city black youth was aggravated rather than alleviated by episodes like that of Little Rock.

Quote:
She argues that the "right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right" and paramount to segregation laws regarding buses, hotels, amusement and schools, or even political discrimination like the right to vote. In not striking down state anti-miscegenation laws, the Supreme Court never addressed what Arendt felt was a more profound violation of the "inalienable human rights to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'"


Furthermore, I think part of her reason for contrasting the two is to demonstrate the failure of people on both sides of the civil rights debate to conduct the wrangle on an adult level. Desegregation of schools became the first front in a struggle to extend civil rights across the board. The front line had to be somewhere, of course, and I think we can grant that it had to take shape around some particular, practical issue, rather than around a theoretical position like "created equal". But that it took shape around the issue of racial discrimination in schools meant that children bore the brunt of instituting social change, whereas, had anti-miscegenation laws been the front line, the weight of the struggle would, by definition, have fallen on adult shoulders.

Quote:
And, though it still gives pause, I think it's important to note that enforcing miscegenation would be an encroachment of the government on the private realm, while enforcing desegregation is an encroachment on the social realm. And while that doesn't invalidate the example, it does complicate it.


That seems like a solid distinction to me. The next question would have to be, what are the consequences of that distinction?

Quote:
For instance, in dividing the social and political realm, Arendt gives two specific examples. She mentions "restricted" country resorts that discriminated based on race and ethnicity, arguing that such practices are "only an extension of the right to free association." She adds that this would not apply to theaters and museums "where people obviously do not congregate for the purpose of associating with each other." She also declares the use of buses, railroad cars, and hotels and restaurants in business districts "another matter."


I also found those distinctions a bit problematic. In the case of public museums -- that is, museums operated or funded by the state -- I'd say there's a good case for disallowing segregation on grounds that the government has a vested interest in equality. In the case of theaters and privately owned museums, I'm not so sure Arendt's argument holds up. I certainly see a social dynamic to both, and that becomes all the more obvious now that we're capable of watching the same entertainments in the privacy of our own home, via the internet virtual museums or so-called home theaters. The film or theater writer's interest with audience is, after all, one form of social discrimination.

It's possible to maintain an anti-discrimination stance with buses and railroad cars, so long as they make use of publicly financed and maintained utilities -- ie. roads -- but the moment they cease to depend on those public utilities -- as with resort buses, that may travel only on private roads -- then the rational ceases to hold up. I'm not sure what the crucial distinction would be between restaurants or hotels and the sort of private club or resort that Arendt exempts from anti-segregation laws.

But on the whole, I don't buy the notion that services for entertainment or amusement provide any kind of compelling exception to the general principle. Nor am I particularly sure that any theoretical argument is necessary to provide exceptions. If we assume that economic rationales will, to some degree, determine social conventions of that sort, then disposing with any legal impediments ought to be enough to ensure a measure of equality in the social sphere. That is to say, most businesses will set aside their personal biases before the levelling interest of making a buck. If segregating restaurants is profitable, then they'll segregate. If it's more profitable to desegregate restaurants, they'll desegregate. So long as the law mandated segregation in other ways, there was no way to profit off of desegregated dining rooms, because minorities were artificially prevented from making as much money as the affluent majority. Removing the legal impediments seems to have started a gradual process whereby the economic logic of segregating social spaces disintegrated.

Of course, there will almost always be hold outs. It's almost dictated by economic logic. While the demand for segregated spaces sloped off in the wake of spreading civil rights, it must have grown more acute in specific locales. Given Arendt's principle that the social sphere functions by discrimination, that's to be expected. So a social realm that undergoes a levelling of discriminatory practice is almost certain to develop pockets where the demand for discrimination is all the more intense. We don't have to like those pockets, but nor do they seem, in light of Arendt's comments, all that unusual.

Dissident Heart wrote:
Arendt says she would never have done it with her daughter...forcing her children to solve the ugly problems of their parents. I suppose lots of African American parents were forced to make terrible decisions regarding the fate and safety of their children raised in the South.


If what you're getting at is that Arendt is in no position to say what she would do in that situation, I agree. It might have been better if she had mused over what she would have done had she somehow been the guardian or mother of a black child. But the way she's stated in the essay as it is, it's almost an assumption that she could have been the essentially the same person she was -- complete with the same notions, experiences and view of the world -- only black. The historical circumstances make that seem unlikely.

And on the whole, I'm not sure that the "If I were a black mother" line of speculation was all that essential to the essay, such that its inclusion was probably a bit unfortunate. It serves a structural function, I suppose, by getting us from one thought to another. Other than that, the biggest benefit may be that it invited us to see things from at least one of two perspectives -- one, an artificial and idealized perspective that might have had no real analogue in the actual historical event, the other a perspective at odds with the one Arendt raised, but made more visible by Arendt's suggestion.


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Thu Dec 13, 2007 9:02 pm
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Mad wrote:
And since we stand at a point roughly forty years removed, it might be worth asking ourselves whether or not she's right.


I don't think I know enough about the history of desegregation to even hazard a guess. But I will say, here in Philadelphia, among what has to be one of the country's worst public education systems, social segregation still continues between public and private schools. The public schools are perceived to be so dangerous that, unless you are part of the working poor or poverty class, you find a way to send your kid to private, usually Catholic, school. I write "perceived to be" because, though there are definitely very violent schools, I don't know if the problem is as pervasive as it is perceived. And, of course, that statement applies to only white families. Black families, for the most part, continue to send their kids to public school. And though there are stories here and there about assaults, and of course weapons and drugs on school grounds has become almost ordinary, it doesn't seem as though the black students are in constant, grave danger. So then one would assume that the white families are sending their kids to private school, less because of the violence, and more because Philadelphia's public education is atrocious



Sun Dec 16, 2007 1:42 am
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I wondered whether it would be OK for me to add a posting here, as I have not read Arendt's book.
Irishrose said to go for it, and Madarchitect would tell me if my posting should be redirected somewhere else.


1- Irishrose wrote:

"It probably was poor judgement, on everyone's part, to force the issue in schools, making children the conscripted warriors of desegregation."
This is a good point. For those who are interested, I can recommend:

Common Ground: a Turbulent Decade in the lives of three American families, by J. Anthony Lucas.
The book won the Pullitzer Prize, and tells (in great detail, over the years), about what desegregation in three families meant in Boston in the 1970's (one Anglo family, one Irish, one Black American).
This is if you are really motivated: over 600 pages in small print, (I confess I have yet to finish it, but I learnt a lot).

2- The next question for me would be: what about desegregation in schools in the XXIst century?
Once busing is no longer compulsory, there is, from what I have read, an (understandable) tendency to send
one's kids to the local school, with people from your community, rather than mix with other groups in a different part of the city.

What I'd like to mention here is the point of view of an African American writer (more interesting, to me, than extrapolating about how one would think if one were a Black mother):

Losing the Race: self-sabotage in Black America, by John Macworther (my favourite non-fiction book about the U.S, ever).

The author advises Black parents to go the extra mile and send their children to schools where they will mix with non-black kids. His argument is pragmatic rather than idealistic: he argues that if Black kids do not mix with their white counterparts, they will be at a disadvantage in later in Corporate America, with mostly white co-workers.

What he writes was felt to be controversial: for example one might argue that the idea mentioned above may be true for middle class Blacks and of little interest for families who are living at or below the poverty line.


3- Next (here I may be straying from the original point): J. Macworther argues against positive discrimination, for a reason that I had long suspected might be true:

In the context of the US (France would be very different here), most (if not almost all) students who go to College come from the middle class, hence not from disadvantaged schools.
He says that as Black high school students he and his classmates somehow knew (although nothing to that effect was ever said to them) that a Black student didn't need as high grades a white one to make it to College. Hence, he never stretched himself. Then, once he was at College, he went on doing just the required minimum for a few more years...

( This is something all teachers experience: many clever kids


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I'm glad you decided to jump in, Ophelia.

First on the two books you mentioned:

Ophelia wrote:
Common Ground: a Turbulent Decade in the lives of three American families, by J. Anthony Lucas.


I will definitely look this book up, thanks for the suggestion. Here's a link for anyone interested, Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families. Actually, DH, this might speak directly to the concern that you raised. What exactly were black families/mothers thinking at the time? And it seems, mixed in with what one black family specifically experienced, Lukas has also addressed the experience of two white families.

Quote:
Losing the Race: self-sabotage in Black America, by John Macworther (my favourite non-fiction book about the U.S, ever).


McWhorter, actually, is from my area, and went to the type of private school that I mentioned above. His happened to be Quaker, Friends Select, and not Catholic. But the opportunity he had to attend a private school, either on scholarship or because his family was in a place where financially they could afford private school, is not always an option for black families in Philadelphia. And, otherwise, as I said, if black students are attending public school, they are attending with a majority black student body.

McWhorter's book definitely seems controversial. I'd have to look it over before I gave my opinion on it. At first glance, I honestly am very wary of such books. I think, at times, black social commentators get a pass at making what are often very racist, and generally inconclusive, statements about the black community/experience, simply because they are black. I'm not saying that is what McWhorter does; but, as I said, I try to be aware of it. If I get a chance to look the book up, I'll give you a head's up.


Quote:
The next question for me would be: what about desegregation in schools in the XXIst century?

Once busing is no longer compulsory, there is, from what I have read, an (understandable) tendency to send one's kids to the local school, with people from your community, rather than mix with other groups in a different part of the city.


Actually, this raises an interesting consideration. I spoke above about how white families send their kids to private schools, but that I wasn't convinced that they do so because the schools are necessarily that much safer or better academically. I thought, rather, that it might be a symptom of social segregation. McWhorter seems to think that black families prefer to send their children to schools with other black children. Again, possibly a symptom of social segregation. Arendt has stated that discrimination is the "innermost principle" of society. That we each congregate in groups or social spheres where, in seeking "the pleasure of company," we "become subject to the old adage of 'like attracts like.'"

Ophelia, you raised the tendency for people to interact "with people from your community" rather than, necessarily, with people from your own race. So, with the mentioning of community, I'm wondering if this apparent continued social segregation we're seeing in schools is a matter of race? Or is it a matter of community? I'm a white woman, the majority of my closest friends are white women. And the majority of the larger groups I hang out with are white. That's not to say everyone is, but a majority is. The section of the city I live in is actually called the Italian Market district. Nowadays, there's a pervasive Italian culture, but a generation ago the vast majority of these blocks housed only Italian-American families. A lot of major U.S. cities have a Chinatown, where a majority Asian population thrives, and tends to be insular in a very successful way. So I guess the question would be, are these all instances of cultural and racial segregation, or are they a matter of communities that developed under the adage that 'like attracts like'?



Which now leads me to ask, if those who read this would be so kind (and answering this question does not require any inclination or desire to read the book, itself), what type of social groups do you interact with? And how did those groups develop, as best as one can retrace such things?



Last edited by irishrose on Mon Dec 17, 2007 8:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Sun Dec 16, 2007 11:22 pm
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About MacWorther's book, I have checked the readers' comments at amazon, and found them really worth reading.

http://www.amazon.com/Losing-Race-Self-Sabotage-Black-America/dp/0060935936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1197868183&sr=1-1


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Quote:
But when it came to settling for subpar education for their children, that was where the line was drawn.


But then, as Arendt points out, desegregation wasn't the only way to address the low standard of education afforded to black students. Black parents could also have fought for improved standards within black schools. Post factum, we tend to agree that separate but equal rarely ever pans out in practice, but that's a conclusion that wouldn't be drawn until much later. Arendt's point, I think, is that the fact that a battle was waged over segregation, and not over the inadequacy of black schools, makes it at least plausible to suppose that the standard of education was not the central concern for some of the prime players, or that, at the very least, the issues were muddled.

[quote]She illustrates this by showing how absurd it would be for the government to enforce miscegenation


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Mon Dec 17, 2007 2:51 am
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Irishrose wrote:


Quote:
I think, at times, black social commentators get a pass at making what are often very racist, and generally inconclusive, statements about the black community/experience, simply because they are black
.

Irishrose,


I don't understand how one can be racist against somebody from one's own race.
One can be insensitive, condescending, arrogant if one feels one belongs to a different social class and does not identify with poorer subgroups within one's ethnic group, I'll buy anything, but... racist?

Of course, I remember scenes from books or films from the days of slavery when one black man would call another "nigger" , but that was within a particular context when both those men were discriminated against by the slave owners.


I'll give an example from French politics, from a few weeks ago. There was a quarrel between Lionel Jospin and Segolene Royal, both high-ranking members of the Socialist Party, both whites.
L J had written a book (which I have no intention to read) explaining why he thought the Socialists had lost the last presidential elections. He called SR the "worst possible candidate" for the Party.

SR answered that L J's accusations were "sexist, and akin to racism."
Now, I actually voted for SR at the elections, and I often identify with women in a conflict, but I thought that it was up to her to demonstrate that L J had attacked her as a woman, rather than as a candidate.
As for the word "racism", this is a highly-educated woman, and I was really annoyed, I thought she should have known better than to go for an easy, emotionally charged word, which only succeeded in making her look silly anyway.


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Mon Dec 17, 2007 12:56 pm
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Ophelia, I'm going to answer you in this new thread. I don't want to cut off this conversation, but I don't want to divert the topic of this thread.



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Mad wrote:
Black parents could also have fought for improved standards within black schools. Post factum, we tend to agree that separate but equal rarely ever pans out in practice, but that's a conclusion that wouldn't be drawn until much later.


I disagree Mad. If Arendt wrote this in 1959, as dated, Brown v. Board had already been decided in 1954. One of the controlling issues in that case was the "separate but equal" ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson. And, in fact, in several cases decided before Brown v. Board, it was found that there were inequalities between the schools. And the Plaintiffs, themselves, in Brown v. Board contended that the schools were not equal.

But, in the end, the Court did not rule on whether "physical facilities and other 'tangible' factors may be equal" between segregated schools. The Court relied instead on an earlier separate but equal case with regard to law schools, noting that segregated law schools could not provide equal educational opportunities because of "those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness in a law school." The Court concluded that "in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place" as "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

Actually, in reviewing Brown v. Board, I really don't see that Arendt's argument, with regard to maligning black parents, holds up at all. The black parents, particularly after such a ruling by the Supreme Court, had no other legal recourse than desegregation to provide equal educational opportunities for their children. I don't imagine most of them were in the position, financially, to make black public schools better for their black kids through private donations and the like. And since the highest court had already ruled on separate but equal, they couldn't appeal to the Court for assistance in making black schools better.

Now, maybe they should have done the leg work, years before, in urging desegregation in other public spaces. But, as I said before, I'm sure there was an immediacy and urgency about addressing desegregation in public schools, that can't really compare to securing desegregation on buses and in restaurants. One should also consider that Plessy v. Ferguson, in addressing separate but equal, did so with regard to transportation. And that was in 1896. So not all the battlegrounds were staged in school yards. And, certainly, black advocates had attempted desegregation on adult public grounds, half a century before Brown v. Board.

Quote:
Maybe. I tend to think of marriage as a social institution.


Well if you want to look at it that way, the civil union, or the signed contract, is a political institution; the ceremony/statement of commitment before family and friends, be it in a religious building, hall, park, home, is a social institution; and the cohabitation and life-building is a private institution.

Quote:
Ophelia : The author advises Black parents to go the extra mile and send their children to schools where they will mix with non-black kids.

Mad: I think that's a totally valid rationale.


The question is whether or not it's feasible. Perhaps black parents in the Philadelphia school district (the district McWhorter went to school in) would love to send their kids to schools where they would mix with non-black kids. But that would mean sending their kids to private schools, and that's just not in the financial cards for many families. Saying black kids should go to schools with non-black kids is a lot different than actually making it possible.



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I've outlined above a bit of the fallacy I see in Arendt's assertion that "if it were only a matter of equally good education for my children, an effort to grant them equality of opportunity, why was I not asked to fight for an improvement of schools for Negro children..." I think a statement like that demonstrates Arendt's ignorance either with the case law, as it already existed, or its function within the U.S. Clearly, demanding improved black schools was a legal struggle that was not available to black parents after Brown v. Board was finally decided, and for them to take social responsibility, in the alternative, would, I imagine, have been nearly impossible. As I said, how could one expect the black population to eschew public schools, where they were not welcomed, and with their own financial muscle build



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I'm not opposed to the suggestion that Arendt just didn't know, or wasn't competent to judge, the pertinent material here. The essay struck me as a strange inclusion in the volume, in large part because it represents Arendt ranging from the historical period and subject matter that made up the bulk of her work. But for precisely that reason, I'd advise against letting her missteps here cast any shadow on her other work. Contemporary non-fiction affords us plenty of examples of writers and researchers offering opinions outside their speciality, and as often as not, those opinions are awkwardly formed or incompletely considered, but we don't often take them as evidence of the author's incompetence in the field in which their reputation was made. It may be that Arendt's work on totalistic governments is flawed, but that's a judgment better reached by examining her writings on that subject. Which isn't to suggest that you've let "Reflections of Little Rock" decide the matter for you, but even the doubt itself seems, to me, misplaced until you've come across something in her other work that gives you the same misgivings.



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Well first, Mad, my above post wasn't a suggestion; it was an assertion, if not a downright accusation.

Mad wrote:
Contemporary non-fiction affords us plenty of examples of writers and researchers offering opinions outside their speciality, and as often as not, those opinions are awkwardly formed or incompletely considered, but we don't often take them as evidence of the author's incompetence in the field in which their reputation was made.


I'm not sure why you would limit this to contemporary writers. And I don't think I've ever consciously accepted writers' work within their field as adequate when they've demonstrated gross negligence outside their field. In fact, when I found obvious errors in Dawkins's work, I said quite the opposite



Sun Jan 13, 2008 6:49 pm
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